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Public meeting over plans to close Armagh Courthouse

A public meeting will take place in Armagh Courthouse next Monday, over plans to close it as part of a review of the Courts Estate.

Meetings are planned at courts across the Province which face the axe as part of the consultation exercise announced by Justice Minister David Ford.

Armagh Courthouse is proposed for closure, with business in the new court division being divided between Craigavon and Newry.

Last Thursday, local councillors and political representatives met with members of the legal profession.

And Armagh I recently revealed that Armagh Council had agreed to employ consultants to fight a united campaign to save the Courthouse.

The meeting in Armagh, which is open to all, takes place on Monday, March 16 at 4pm.

Other meetings in relation to other proposed closures will take place at: Newtownards Courthouse on Monday 23 March 2015 at 4pm; Magherafelt Courthouse on Wednesday 25 March 2015 at 4pm; Ballymena Courthouse on Tuesday 31 March 2015 at 4pm; Enniskillen Courthouse on Thursday 2 April 2015 at 4pm; Lisburn Courthouse on Monday 13 April 2015 at 4pm; and Strabane Courthouse on Thursday 16 April 2015 at 4pm.

SDLP Newry and Armagh Westminster election candidate Justin McNulty has said the Courthouse in Armagh  must be retained and has described the building as “an iconic feature in Armagh’s Georgian architecture”.

Mr McNulty was speaking after meeting with representatives of local solicitor practices in Armagh City on Thursday afternoon.

He said: “The Justice Minister David Ford has proposed the closure of eight courthouses across the north and Armagh has been listed as one of those under threat. His plans are based on a savings plan, which just doesn’t stack up.

“The building in Armagh is one of the most iconic buildings in Armagh City and members of the legal profession are telling me it is one of the best equipped and most functional court buildings in the entire court estate by those who practice in it.

“The Department of Justice have spent thousands of pounds over recent years making it more accessible and disabled friendly. Any proposal to close the building as a working court is just ludicrous.

“However the Courthouse is more than a building, it is a key component in the justice system. We have already seen the custody suite removed from Armagh PSNI station and the Chief Constable has made proposals to reduce the hours of the enquiry office in Armagh police station. These are all having a negative impact on the community locally.

“I firmly believe, and those in attendance at the meeting wholeheartedly agree with me, that this process will end up costing the department more that it will save. I want to see the use of the Courthouse in Armagh expanded, not reduced.

“Over recent months Armagh has been the venue for inquests and Crown Court cases. This is because no other courthouse in the region can facilitate these lengthy cases. Furthermore, there is the potential for the court to deal with issues around Employment Tribunals.

“The Stormont House Agreement has identified a number of new legal processes which are needed to deal with the legacy of the past; it makes sense that one of those can be based in Armagh.

“The Courthouse as a functional justice building is superior to some neighbouring courts. It has the appropriate parking facilities close at hand, a large number of holding cells and it is disabled friendly.

“I genuinely believe that not all of the courthouses on the list will be closed, however I fear that politics at play would see the Stormont Executive save Lisburn and Newtownards Courthouses.

“Finally the Minister for Justice tells us that there will be no jobs lost. This is simply untrue. Court Service staff may be moved to other facilities, but the security and maintenance staff will not.

“This proposal just does not stack up. The Minister must rethink his plans and I would encourage the community to get behind the campaign to retain the Courthouse.

“Armagh is already a city without an emergency hospital and train station.

“Are we now to be one of the only cities in the world without a court?”

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